Saturday, August 07, 2010

Outbidding of a different sort in Iraq

By Peter Henne

The concept of outbidding has become popular among scholars, most significantly in
Jack Snyder's influential book on the connection between democratization and war, From Voting to Violence. Basically, these studies argue that two groups competing for power will adopt increasingly dramatic rhetoric and tactics--like bidders driving prices higher in an auction--a process that can lead to severe violence.

A recent article in this vein from the San Francisco Chronicle caught my attention. Apparently, the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) are offering cash to members of the "Sunni Awakening"--Sunni militias who turned against AQI and cooperated with US forces--to rejoin the militant movement. The Iraqi government is currently in charge of paying the militias' salaries; it has fallen woefully behind, so some may turn to other employment. This is outbidding in a literal sense: whoever pays the most gets the fighters.

There are two take-aways from this story. The first is the importance of ensuring the Iraqi government functions properly, as frustrated Sunnis may join AQI if they see little sign of support from the government. The second, though, is the weakness this demonstrates on the part of AQI. Back when Osama bin Ladin first appeared on the international scene, he expected his calls for Islamic revival and opposition to the West to mobilize Muslims worldwide. Now, little over a decade after he declared "war" on the "West," what many thought would be AQ's strongest affiliate is reduced to buying supporters, like a kid making friends through a steady stream of ice cream from his mom's freezer.

The story says AQI is offering $100 more a month than the militias currently receive. I'm sure the United Nations or other relevant international bodies could scrape together $100/fighter. This might even spark more outbidding, forcing AQI to raise its offers until it prices itself out of the market. I'm not one to be optimistic, but it's worth a shot.

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